Is Your Blog Culturally Insensitive?

Lawyers and small businesses spend time and money creating web content to bring in new clients and grow their companies. But if your blog is culturally insensitive, you could be turning people away without even knowing it.

Writers of all types naturally write what we know. Sometimes that’s explicit – like when we choose blog posts that feature our expertise and depth of knowledge. Other times it is entirely unintentional. Sometimes, that can accidentally insult or exclude entire categories of potential customers.

How to Tell if Your Blog is Culturally Insensitive

Cultural insensitivity can take different forms. Obviously, a professional blog is no place for racial slurs or discriminatory language. But more subtle forms of culturally insensitivity often fly below the radar of even the most professional businessperson. Your blog could be turning people off if:

  • Makes assumptions about the race, religion, culture, or circumstances of people in a particular sector of life situation (i.e. anyone facing parental termination must be poor)
  • Consistently uses cultural assumptions about race or gender in examples (i.e. all doctors are “he” and all caregivers are “she”)
  • Avoids diverse naming conventions or circumstances (i.e. restricting hypothetical names to Western European origins like John and Sue)
  • Uses exclusive imagery (i.e. only has images of white people)

How Subtle Cultural Insensitivity Can Affect Your Marketing

Subtle cultural insensitivity isn’t likely to cause a backlash online. You probably don’t need to worry about someone calling you out on your choice of examples or pronoun selection. But it could be turning potential clients away.

It is human nature to want to work with like-minded people. When potential customers are browsing online for a lawyer or other professional service provider, they are looking for cues that you will be sympathetic to their situation. A culturally insensitive blog won’t contain those cues to show people of other cultures you are open to their point of view. This could cause users to look elsewhere, even though you have the mindset and expertise to help them.

Improving Cultural Sensitivity in Your Writing

Taking on cultural assumptions can be intimidating. Worrying about name choices and examples can get in your way and give you a serious case of writer’s block. But improving the cultural sensitivity of your writing doesn’t have to be hard.

It’s all about the second read. Rather than agonizing about your own implicit biases right off the bat, write the blog as you normally would first. Use socially typical examples and names from your everyday life, just like you always do. Then go back and challenge those assumptions. Ask yourself:

  • Why is the person in this example male or female?
  • Would it change anything if the cultural facts in your hypothetical were different?
  • Have you used culturally diverse names?
  • Could you use minorities in your imagery?

Be cautious, however, about accidental offense by simply substituting names in a way that does not recognize the culture behind them. Think about the implications of the changes you make to avoid replacing one cultural insensitivity with another.

When in Doubt, Ask

Sometimes a post explicitly addresses cultural issues. When you are called to write about a different culture, it can be a good idea to screen it with readers within the community. For example, I recently wrote about a court decision involving a polyamorous relationship. I was not overly familiar with the community or their preferred language, but I had friends in my network who were. So I put it out on social media, asking if anyone would be willing to read the blog ahead of time to screen out any offensive language choices.

The community responded. I quickly got a beta-reader and had several contacts interested in reading the final version. The social media post actually generated extra buzz around the issue and boosted readership on the post.

The lesson: when in doubt, ask. People will appreciate that you are being respectful and culturally sensitive in your writing. It could even improve your readership and attract more potential business in the long run.

Lisa Schmidt is a writer for Legal Linguist. She writes blogs and web content for law firms and small businesses. If you need help creating a culturally sensitive web presence, contact Legal Linguist today to schedule a meeting.

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